Solomon Islands Girls Being Married Off In Logging Camps

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Leaders want laws to stop families trading daughters for money

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 3, 2013) – Community leaders in Solomon Islands are calling on provincial governments to introduce legislation to prevent families from marrying off young girls to workers at logging camps.

The Chairman of the Child Protection Unit in Honiara Aaron Olofia told Pacific Beat teenagers under the age of 18 in Solomon Islands need parental consent to marry.

He says many families have been marrying off their young daughters in return for food or money.

"The families themselves, because they do not have plenty of money at their disposal allow their daughters to be married to these loggers, so these loggers could maintain them by giving money or food," he said.

"There is an assumption that parents allow their daughters to be married.

"When you are in a state of powerlessness, what can you do? Sometimes the girls themselves were forced to be married."

Impact of logging industry

Logging is the largest industry in Solomon Islands and accounts for 60 per cent of its export earnings.

Despite this, locals say they've seen little benefit and instead claim their lives are now much worse.

Financial hardship has led to greater inequality and a violation of human rights, such as the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The sexual exploitation of young girls remains a huge problem in the Malaita province.

The president of the Malaita Council of Women Martha Rurai says while community leaders are making efforts to address the issue, they are pleading for help from the provincial governments.

She says they want legislation introduced that would provide protection for these young girls.

"We would like to give it up to the provincial government so that we have some kind of resolution to be controlled... with the communities and loggers," she said.

Ms Rurai says some communities "are very strong" in ensuring the young girls do not land in the hands of the loggers, something which Mr Olofia has observed as well.

"One of the logging companies that we went and talked to actually told us a policy that any logger who married a local girl would be sent home US$10,000 fine," he said.

"They do not encourage their loggers to get married to a local girl."

However, other communities are not as strong in their resolve.

Vulnerable young women

Despite their vulnerable situation, the women do not get any support or protection from the provincial government.

Mr Olofia says the Child Protection Unit is calling on the government to have strict policies to help protect the women from such abusive situations.

"If you have influence, you can ask the loggers to pay compensation. But again, the compensation is only to settle the breach that has occurred," he said.

The compensation does not cater for the upbringing of any children, but Mr Olofia says there is little some families can do.

"The committee is trying to advocate for a change in government policy that makes it hard, that helps us to provide laws for the protection of these kinds of situations for young girls who work in these logging camps," he said.

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